GREEN BAY – Here are the five people – non-players only – most responsible for the survival and success of the Green Bay Packers heading into their 97th season and Ron Wolf’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He will be the Packers’ third coach or contributor to be enshrined in Canton. Active club officials and coaches were not considered.
1. Curly Lambeau (1919-49) – Times were different in 1919, but even when you know what happened, it’s still almost incomprehensible a local high football star in a small town could start a professional team and then keep it going, especially after it truly joined the ranks of the big leagues. In 1940, Green Bay’s population was 46,235. The population of the second smallest city in the NFL, Washington D.C., was 663,091. Lambeau had help, but he was the driving force. And not only did the Packers survive, they won six championships, tied for the most with the Chicago Bears at that stage.
2. Vince Lombardi (1959-69) – By 1959, the Packers had secured their future to a degree. They had built new City Stadium and were sharing TV revenue. But they also were coming off a disastrous 1-10-1 season and hadn’t had a winning record in 12 years. The popularity of pro football was about to explode and history tells us the Packers probably couldn’t have kept pace had they continued to wallow in mediocrity. But Lombardi produced a dynasty and the Packers became the NFL’s flagship during the explosion.
3. Ron Wolf (1991-2001) – Wolf inherited a situation every bit as dire as Lombardi did – the Packers were stumbling toward a 4-12 finish and the losing had gone on for 24 years – and the NFL was about to experience another period of tremendous growth as a result of new stadium construction and around-the-clock media coverage. Again, history tells us the Packers might not have been able to keep up if they hadn’t started winning. Under Wolf’s reign, the Packers tied for the second best record in the NFL and went from being the butt of jokes – no more “Battle of the Bays” vs. comparably hapless Tampa –to the envy of other owners.
4. Andrew Turnbull (1923-49) – As one of the owners of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, he took the lead in turning the Packers into a community-owned team. Packers co-founder George Whitney Calhoun called Turnbull’s efforts in 1923 the turning point in franchise history. Turnbull subsequently served as the Packers’ first president from 1923-28 and remained an influential member of the executive committee until 1949. Turnbull also was the one who rallied the business community to come up with more money in 1927 when the NFL pared its membership by almost half and eliminated most of its small towns. Lambeau wasn’t a businessman so Turnbull’s acumen in that area was critical to the Packers’ survival. What’s more, based on stories from his contemporaries, Turnbull didn’t just guide the Packers through some tough financial times, he dug into his own pocket on occasion to do it.
5. Lee Joannes (1923-80) – A member of the Packers’ original executive committee in 1923, president from 1930-47 and the longest serving board member in franchise history, Joannes had his greatest influence during the Packers’ hardest times. As Turnbull’s involvement diminished some in the 1930s, Joannes took over the reins and led the franchise through nearly 18 months of receivership and its reorganization as Green Bay Packers, Inc. Actually, the other NFL owners transferred the franchise into Joannes’ name during those near-death months to try and protect it from its insolvency. Like Turnbull, Joannes was an officer in his family’s successful wholesale grocery company and a sharp businessman, and also someone willing to lend his own money to keep the Packers alive. During the receivership years, 1933-35, Joannes loaned the team $6,000 or about $110,000 in today’s money.
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